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    Arizona Republic: License-plate scanning catching crooks, raising privacy concerns

    The Arizona Republic has a story about the use of license-plate scanners in the state.

    Every plate is photographed, time-stamped, labeled on a GPS map and automatically logged into an Arizona Department of Public Safety database. An electronic voice alerts [the officer] to stolen vehicles within seconds after they pass, giving him the ability to make quick arrests.

    [Officer] Callister is among the growing number of Arizona officers who use cameras to scan thousands of plates on a daily basis, sweeping parking lots and highways to recover stolen vehicles faster than ever before.

    Of course, officials are expanding the use of the scanners beyond finding stolen vehicles to tracking every single individual on Arizona streets, no matter the person’s guilt or innocence.

    U.S. plate readers were introduced as an auto-theft deterrent, but investigators talk about using the cameras to create a virtual Arizona crime map, widening the scope beyond stolen vehicles.

    By logging the daily location of thousands of registered automobiles, investigators may be able to narrow down the locations of people they are looking for.

    Arizona officials are following in the footsteps of British police, who have admitted (under the pressure of Freedom of Information Act requests) that they are keeping for five years the data from license plate scanners recording the trips of 10 million drivers a day.

    Though the scanners do find some criminals, there is a cost-effectiveness argument to be made, because “Of the thousands of license plates scanned each day, only a small fraction of the vehicles are tied to some possible criminal activity.”

    I have discussed the issue before, as applied to Memphis and Washington, DC. The question remains: What happens to all the data on innocent individuals? For example, in Arizona, there are few safeguards, because “Arizona legislators have provided little guidance on how to regulate the technology since Mesa police pioneered Arizona’s first plate-readers in 2005.”

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